Time to Farm
by Lynn R. Miller of Singing Horse Ranch
It is time to farm, right now. Don’t put it off any longer. It’s time to farm because the opportunities for success abound. It is time to farm because many of the critical resources for the beginning farmer, pure parent-seed and livestock genetics for example, will become harder to acquire. It is time to farm because new farmers are the only answer which will ward off accelerating development of fragile farm land into housing. It is time to farm because communities are searching for locally produced food.
Do you know where your food comes from? Probably not, at least not all of it. Does it matter to you? For most people the answer is no, it doesn’t matter. But to a rapidly growing number of folks the question of where their food comes from is crucial. Should it be important? Yes, absolutely, it is terribly important. Our health, well-being and connection to life itself are all reinforced by the easily accessible view of who produces our food, our knowledge of how it is grown, and our belief in the farmers who are responsible. Comfort and assurance an extravagant notion? I think not. Quite the opposite; it is extravagant to close your eyes to where your food comes from.
Would you prefer to purchase food from good conscientious farmers like a Lise Hubbe or an Anne Nordell or a John Davis rather than a large indifferent corporation like a Monsanto or a Cargill or a Phillip Morris? If you ask to see how the vegetables are grown at the Blue Hill, Maine Farm of Elliot Coleman you will likely be engaged in an experience that will add assurance, flavor and purpose to the produce you purchase from him. If you ask to see how a large corporate factory farm produces your food you will likely hit a stone wall where practicality and confidentiality will make it impossible for that experience to occur.
Imagine this; I hand you a sealed plastic bag with lettuce inside and a tag on the outside featuring a USDA endicia, plus contents listings and liability waivers. The address printed on the bag is a corporate office two thousand miles distant from you. Now, in an act of blind faith, you will take that lettuce from that bag and feed it to your child. You have no idea what chemical residues are in the bag, farm chemicals which are regularly poisoning field workers. You are asked to believe that your government and its department of agriculture are protecting YOU and YOUR child and guaranteeing the purity of this product. *1*
Now imagine this: Lise Hubbe smiles and hands you a head of lettuce and cheerfully supplies anecdotal information about its variety, her farming practices, her work horses. She tells you stories about her farm. You are given access and connection. All of this gives you the accurate and comforting sense that your children and their children are protected and connected.
Our choice might be simple:
Pay the corporation for the questionable food product and take the risk that you poison your family and financially contribute to the continuing destruction of the planet and society
Pay the independent local farmer for the assuredly tasty and healthy food product and contribute DIRECTLY to the health of your family, the success of that farm, the improvement of your environment and the reduction of the coffers of the big corporation.
The choice might be simple, but all of this presupposes a vast and growing array of independent small farms. That is part of the reason why I argue it is Time to Farm, Right Now.
In April of 2006 we Millers traveled to Millersburg, Ohio, to share in the wedding of our dear friends Joe and Ruth Raber. For twenty-six years we have been making regular trips into the Wayne, Holmes and Tuscarora county Amish communities of Ohio for pleasure, for friends, and for business. We’ve wandered into many corners of that countryside and long been thrilled and delighted by the evidence of what a closely-knit community of free-holding farmers can accomplish. Beautiful farms, lovely crops and strong healthy livestock. Farms trading product and service, one to the other, in regular weekly markets exhibiting deep vitality.
But to the frequent visitor it is impossible not to record change, evolution if you will, to greater diversity of venture, and to a larger dependence on elements outside their community. There are increases in non-farm, home-based craft ventures and cottage industries now with what seems like fewer traditional farms. Social and economic pressures have more and more Amish working for industry. At least that is the way it seems. Perhaps land development pressures along with the recent decades long history of depressed crop and milk prices took their toll. (At least one sociologist claims that there are no fewer Amish farms. He argues that it appears that way because the community has grown in numbers resulting a shift in percentages.)
My April 2006 discussion with Wayne Wengerd of Pioneer Equipment began about their new plow design and came round to this subject as he expressed his concern that large numbers of Ohio Amish farmers are quitting the time-honored vocation to move to light industry and craft. This, he continues, at a time when we desperately need MORE farmers, not less and a time when opportunities for genuine success with locally-based farming have never been better. I agree with him on all fronts. (As an aside: It is an interesting paradox that even with these concerns and observations, Pioneer Equipment, a horsedrawn implement company, continues to increase sales every year.)
For thousands of years a large segment of humanity has felt naturally drawn to the farming vocation and life. It is in the blood, it is a piece of our genetic code. We feel a comfort, vitality and sense of purpose working with the land, with soils, with seeds and plants, with livestock. It has always been a bonus when we find along the way that we have produced something of quality with those efforts. Imagine good work which results in food and fiber and then as a bonus benefits ourselves and others?
WE NEED MORE FARMERS AND WE NEED THEM NOW
With all the illusions of a life of ease and convenience, why would any young person consider getting into farming today, at the front end of the twenty-first century? And would we, should we, as adults and parents who care about the best future for our young people, would we, should we, wish such a life of hard work on them?
And how about those adults who want, with or without farming in their history, to get a place of their own to raise livestock and crops?
As this society in this time, when we pay close attention to the world and those around us, we have a pretty clear understanding of what our society needs. We need thousands more doctors and nurses who want to help people and prevent illness. We need thousands more dedicated, intelligent, curious teachers who want to teach. We need people in positions of power and influence who care about the planet and our environment. We need dedicated, intelligent, reluctant leaders, who, in spite of how busy and successful they are in their chosen walks of life, are prepared to give of themselves to work selflessly and ‘part-time’ in governance. You can continue the list. But make sure that you add this; we need millions of intelligent, dedicated, craft and soil-based, independent farmers who want to raise good food and strong families. Yes, millions. The planet needs millions of true farmers to feed us all and to keep the waters clear, the soil fertile, the bio-diversity vibrant, the lights on, and our governments and industry at bay.
For farmers in America, it is the worst of times and it is the best of times. Industry wants us out and those who need food to eat want us in. Government no longer sees a value to what we do and yet the environmental future of the planet depends in large part on us. The costs of industrial farming are skyrocketing while the prices for industrial ag products remain flat. The bureaucratic roadblocks to an independent craft-based natural family farming operation are piling up faster than beer cans at a Nascar race, while the prices a concerned public is willing to pay for genuine food, produced in a healthy manner, are substantial and increasing. The growing (actual and/or manipulated) scarcity of petroleum product will soon put a crimp on intercontinental as well as interstate food shipments, which is bad news for food prices, but it translates to an enormous opportunity for small independent farmers who are intelligently focusing on local markets.
It is the best of times, it is the worst of times, to borrow from Charles Dickens. And the analogy goes deeper yet for there are many of us who believe that efforts are underway to guillotine true agriculture.
Who’s the enemy? Do we have an enemy? Are we the enemy? Who or what is responsible for the agribusiness mess we seem to be fighting? It’s too easy to point to the multi-national corporations who are working voraciously, if clumsily, to try to control all aspects of food production on the planet. Their motives come down to a grab for the power to control markets and thereby profit. We know where they are coming from and we fear where they are taking us. But what they are doing would not be possible without the aid and comfort of a well-oiled, ‘professional’, store-bought, government. Yet the real meanies, the real villains in this affair, aren’t those elected morons of shellaqued insouciance, of girdled intellect, as well as vulgar untrackable ancillary income. The real bad guys are the architects of our agribusiness system, generations of stiff-necked bureaucrats, statisticians, ag economists, and program directors with the USDA, career professionals who have been high-jacked by industry to do its bidding right or wrong. *2* From their closeted, disconnected, mean-spirited myopia they have worked relentlessly to reduce agriculture to its lowest common denominator – production. They have been working to get people off the land and render farming into a purely chemical/industrial equation.
I have argued that we need to abolish the USDA. I still feel that way, but perhaps we don’t need to take any action. Perhaps they are doing it for us. They are dinosaurs which have blindly set in motion their own obsolescence. A behemoth bureaucracy like the USDA requires a constituency. They need a base of people to serve. As they drive true farmers off, they lose their base and very purpose for being. As they lose credibility with the consuming public they also lose base. This, and the fact that young college graduates are less and less inclined to follow the bureaucratic line and we can see the handwriting on the wall for this relic of the past.
If a young person is considering a career in agriculture the WORST thing they could move towards is working for the USDA. There is simply no future, honor, or reward in such a path. If a young person is considering a life in agriculture the BEST way forward is with an independent farming operation of creative design and economics. Such a path offers hard work along with honor, reward and the best of futures.
WE NEED INTELLIGENT, CAUTIOUS, DOUBTING FARMERS, RIGHT NOW
If pigs, sheep, cattle, horses, goats, chickens, etc. figure into your dreams of a future of independent farming, DO IT NOW! DO NOT WAIT ANY LONGER. If you are considering expanding your farming operation with expensive and/or difficult infrastructure such as processing facilities, new livestock housing, refrigeration, and delivery systems, extra thought needs to go into how the proposed mandatory, federal, animal identification program might hurt your investments. It is a time to keep our eyes wide open and think, clearly and deliberately about what it might mean to have state and federal government, in concert with industrial subcontractors, knowing who you are, where your buildings and facilities are and where all your animals are at every moment. I find such a concept to be not just meddlesome and scary, I find it to be sacrilegious.
If the National Animal Identification System becomes law anytime soon, and unfortunately it does seem possible (it’s not a done deal yet), it will make it difficult or impossible for anyone to acquire livestock without entering into that system. And complicity with that program will register you and your farm with the government, which can and will make regular de facto determinations about your right to continue as a farmer. Many small and mid-sized livestock support companies have indicated that NAIS will, if it is implemented as mandatory, effectively shut them down. That includes hatcheries, livestock auction barns, rare breed farmers, small dairies, custom meat processing plants, etc. The mixed livestock operator who starts today may enjoy the last opportunities of truly free access to a diversity of breeds and individuals not registered with the government.
This magazine has gone on record as being completely opposed to the NAIS. We know, through channels, that tons of letters and phone calls have been placed with state and federal officials voicing specific opposition. We are proud of all of you who made the effort. It is easy to be a bit stymied by the appearance that these letters have elicited only frustrating doublespeak response from the USDA itself (i.e. “don’t fret, for the time being its only voluntary, as long as we get enough compliance …”) and not much from the electorate and appropriate agencies. But please know, that in spite of these appearances of no gain, we have actually had a tremendous influence on the future of NAIS. The vulgar propaganda dogs of agribusiness are in retreat. Government and industry are scurrying to put out the fires we are setting, struggling to regain what they thought was their moral certitude on this issue.
- A national animal identification system will NOT safeguard the food supply infrastructure in the US from contagious disease.
- The oft-named diseases of concern – avian flu, mad cow disease to name but two – can be monitored and controlled by existing regulations IF the USDA would force factory farms and processors into compliance.
- Using the “terrorism” card to frighten people into thinking they have to comply with yet another constitution-busting surveillance program smacks loudly of police-state tactics and fascism.
- The costs and procedural nonsense required of such a program would effectively shut down what is arguably the most important segment of our agriculture, the small independent farmer.
- All the various aspects of this proposed program, if implemented, would give additional competitive advantage to the largest livestock operations.
We know, and have shared with our readers, that several organizations are working very hard on this front. Their work is vital. It is important not to be discouraged by this animal ID end run. The outcry must continue. We must send more letters and reach more people. We are not done yet. Continue the fight and encourage others to do the same.
We need MORE intelligent, cautious, doubting farmers, right now.
I am one of those who believe that the phenomenon we call global warming is a very real consequence of humanity’s industrial footprint on the globe. I also believe that the vast majority of the human race doesn’t give a fig about global warming. They could care less because the consequences, if there are any, seem to be far removed from their connected lives. But what I believe doesn’t matter. It’s what you and they believe that matters.
We humans seem doomed to repeat ourselves. And the evidence seems clear that we are entering a new dark age with distances between peoples and cultures increasing rather than decreasing. In spite of the insistence of the stock market and industrial propaganda pointing in the other direction, we are watching the beginning of the end of so-called global free trade. The future, good and bad, will belong to regions and there the character of local self-reliance will rule the day.
Our old world recently came to an end and we missed the passing. The end came with the internet and now wholesale criminal, governmental and industrial access to individual computer data records, with the USDA usurpation of organics and the slithering forced insertion of animal ID, with the declaration of war on a noun (terrorism), with the political development of the rule of deniability (steal, cheat, lie, and then just say it isn’t so), with the absurd trivialization of the US Supreme Court, with the media revelation that all organized religions have been protectorates for many forms of deviant behavior, with the discovery that it takes very little to purchase a vote in most any government, and the list goes on. It would seem that the only thing left for us to discover together is that “political correctness” is the ultimate corrosive and useless oxymoron. Even with all of these indications, society seems to rush headlong BACK into the abyss, back to the internet to divulge more personal information, back to allowing leadership to consider “regime change” in other countries, back to sanctifying the lying thieving congressmen and senators, back into the dirty bed chambers of organized religion, back into store-bought government, back into a head-in-the-sand posture. All of us, perfect saps for the market place.
Because of it, we are at risk that industrial propaganda and fascist reasoning will win the day giving us individual, plastic-wrapped, irradiated salads with synthetic cheese and attitude-adjusting farm-aceutical dressings all for $23 a serving. And these will eventually be sent electronically, as chemical equations, direct to little transporters located in our kitchen-less homes.
The antidote is to have more good farmers producing real food for their neighbors. Those same farmers will begin to heal the environment in small ways right on their own places. And those healing actions will joing together in a fabric of fertility and self-reliance beginning a process to soften the footprint of humanity on the globe.
It’s a hot time to be a human on the planet earth, and its getting hotter every day. Those of us in so-called developed countries are hot (read angry) because our neighbors ain’t behaving the way we want them to. Shame on us, bloody shame. There is an intensified focus on the little differences between individuals and groups and zero tolerance for diversity. We don’t see a child, we see a Moslem child or a black child or a wet-back child. We don’t see a mother we see a welfare mother, we see an unwed mother, we see a half-breed mother. We don’t see a free expression of ideas, we see the targeted agendas of demons out to destroy what we believe in. (The joke in that is that many of us don’t actually believe in anything, EXCEPT our absolute right to have it our way.) The agendas of the Granola, Grits, and Martini sets have decided that no one is going to take their health club, church club or golf club memberships away from them, NO ONE. Environmental actuarials don’t matter, pandemic disease doesn’t matter, food security doesn’t matter, they don’t even seem to care what they might have to pay for gasoline – all that matters is their absolute right to their particular version of socialized pleasure. The distinctions between freedom and entitlement have vanished in the western world. Meanwhile, quite to our dismay, the rest of the world – and last time anyone looked there are far more of them than there are of us – the rest of the world is heating up for opposite reasons.
Every three and a half seconds somewhere on this planet a child dies of hunger. THAT should matter. The climate of the planet is altering at an alarming rate and life is being threatened. THAT should matter. Devastating wars are being fought to satisfy the twisted, ego-maniacal, shortcomings of little idiot cowards in power (from power-crazed female New York senators to ego-maniacal matinee governors to small-brained appointed presidents). THAT should matter. Industry is shutting down farming. THAT should matter. Instead we choose to snipe at one another about real and imagined sideways glances construed to be acts of disrespect and threats to our rights to excess. We yell at each other from one SUV to the other. Here at home in the West we don’t like each other very much. Suspicion rules the day.
In the so-called undeveloped world there is an intensified focus on the wholesale difference between the haves and the have nots. There they see hungry children and imagine those OTHER children riding in bodyguard protected tinted-glass limousines. There they see hungry struggling courageous mothers and they imagine the kept, sterile, brainless women belonging to the leaders. There they see hardscrabble farmers scratching the dirt to get a tiny piece of food and they imagine huge warehouses full of magically appearing processed foods. Out there, injustice is creating pockets in shrouds where weapons are hidden until the right moment. Its a hot time, and that is not good.
The antidote again, even out there, is to have more good farmers producing real food for their neighbors. Those same farmers will begin to heal the social and physical environment in small ways right on their own places. And those healing actions will join together in a fabric of compassion, justice, fertility and self-reliance beginning a process to soften the footprint of humanity all over the globe.
Faith has become such a maligned commodity in these times. We are asked to have faith in our federal and state governments, faith in our industrial food supply, faith in the good intentions and objectivity of mass media, faith in our laws and court system, faith in a concept of man’s basic goodness, faith in our health care system, and so much more. Maybe its screwy but I always assigned to my definition of faith a required measured of belief as in “I have this faith because I believe…” I believe in this country but I no longer believe in this government. I do not believe in the industrial food supply. I do not believe in the mass media. We need the rule of law, but I can not believe in a justice system which rationalizes ideologies, panders to the powerful, and regularly squashes the little guy in order to protect the property rights of thieves. I do not believe in our health care system because it does not care for health it cares for profitable diseases. I want to believe in the basic goodness of man but these times sorely test even that notion.
Where then do I justify “faith” in any of these things? I say circumstances point to constructive doubt and even suspicion, I doubt and suspect our governments, our industrial food, our media, our justice system, and so forth. Until I can believe in these things I will grant them none of my faith.
I do believe completely in the concept of the independent small farmer. I know what he and she can do. I am regularly thrilled by what many of them have done and can do in concert. Because I wholeheartedly believe in true farmers, I have faith in them and what they represent. They represent for me a real opportunity for a better world.
How do any of us make a difference? How do we start to turn this stranded, wallowing ship around? We do it as individuals working in constructive ways on those things within our grasp. We do it with small steps. We do it by encouraging and assisting others to join our ranks as farmers. I believe we do it by being the best farmers we know how to be. We take great care with each and everyone of those daily choices we must make; choices of what we are doing, choices of how we will do what we are doing, and all of that supported by a gratitude and appreciation for why we do it.
It’s time to farm.
*1* The USDA is not there to protect the food supply, evidence of the last four decades clearly indicates that the USDA is there only to protect the largest food suppliers.
*2* Not all career bureaucrats are bad, but enough are to have broken down the very fabric of our agrarian society.